We are currently in Kali Yug, and we can see that in every single country in the world, including our own. Today the new kings are those who wield power, whether political, civilian or military – and all involving huge sums of filthy lucre
The short answer to this question is – yes and no. Yes if we continue with business as usual. No if we acknowledge that there is a major problem, and without any further delay make the conscious effort to deal with it using the appropriate resources and involve all stakeholders in the process.
Today is Vijayadashmi, the tenth and last day of Navaratri, when we celebrate the victory of dharma over adharma – simplistically, of good over evil – symbolized by Durga Mata who in the form of Kali the destroyer, slays the mighty demon Mahishasura who was creating havoc in the worlds. So it’s a good day to reflect on the adharma that is prevailing which, it seems, is an archetypal problem or, as we might put it today, is hardwired in our DNA, that is, our make-up. It has been around ever since mankind appeared on the scene, but surfaces with greater intensity every so often, and none more so than in Kali Yug.
In ‘The Age of Kali’, which he calls ‘a work of love’, William Dalrymple, a Scottish travel writer who now divides his time between London and Delhi – where ‘I have chosen to spend most of my time since I was free to make that choice’ – quotes the following lines from the Vishnu Purana: ‘The kings of the Kali Yug will be addicted to corruption and will seize the property of their subjects, but will, for the most part, be of limited power, rising and falling rapidly. Then property and wealth alone will confer rank; falsehood will be the only means of success in litigation. Corruption will be the universal means of subsistence. At the end, unable to support their avaricious kings, the people of the Kali Age will take refuge in the chasms between the mountains, they will wear ragged garments, and they will have too many children. Thus in the Kali Age shall strife and decay constantly proceed, until the human race approaches annihilation’.
Briefly, in the Hindu reckoning of Time on the cosmic scale, there are four great Eras or Ages – Satya Yug, Treta Yug, Dwapar Yug and Kali Yug. Satya Yug corresponds roughly to the West’s concept of a Golden Age. After that comes progressive deterioration in society over hundreds of thousands of years until we reach Kali Yug, ‘an epoch of strife, corruption, darkness and disintegration’ during which ‘normal conventions fall apart: anything is possible’.
As Swami Tejomayananda of Chinmaya Mission said, ‘People do anything, anywhere, anytime’, with no respect for any norms, let alone for people. Along with the daily reports in the media of all manner of social ills, there are those that erupt with regularity on the world stage and are indicative of the deep rot that is gnawing at society, even the most so-called ‘advanced’ ones. And since they involve the high and the mighty, they are even more dangerous, for the victims are often muted – or ‘disappeared’.
For example, there have been the scandal of paedophilia in the church; sexual exploitation in its multiple forms: rapes, prostitution, grooming gangs (UK), sexual harassment that has spawned the #MeToo movement in the US, spread worldwide and is now shaking up Bollywood and the Indian media. Then we have the epidemic of mass shootings in the US that kill so many innocent people, among whom schoolchildren appear to be a favourite target. There is that other scourge, terrorism, which is meant to scare and to disrupt through its impact on the daily lives of people, especially commuters, more so air travellers who now have to go through a laborious and tiring security procedure at many airports – that of course increases the financial and social costs of travel. A leader in a magazine some years ago about yet another massive terrorist attack in Europe was titled ‘The new normal’!
Further, Swamiji added, instead of being the means to an end, money has now become the end in itself – and so the unbridled pursuit of money by any means has been normalized too in contemporary society. And with it of course the normalization of the wrongful behaviours associated with this activity by all and sundry, starting with the high profile people who are then imitated by those lower down in the social ladder aspiring to social mobility the easy way.
We have to go no further than our own shores to realise the truism of Swamiji’s observation, isn’t it? We only have to recall the parade of people from what ought to be respectable walks of life, such as the law and politics that filed past the Lam Shang Leen Commission on drugs, along with the more notorious wheelers and dealers of the drug ‘industry’. The list lengthens with the various scams have occupied media in the past several years with an increase in coverage detailing the more recent ones, notably the Sobrinho affair that has tarnished the Presidency.
Further afield, think of the financial crisis of 2008, which was caused by the greed – according to an analysis in the American magazine Newsweek then – of a few bankers and financiers. We are currently in Kali Yug, and we can see that in every single country in the world, including our own, several elements of the scenario described in the Vishnu Purana as above play out with alarming frequency, as if every previous one contains the seed for a succeeding one! Today the new kings are those who wield power, whether political, civilian or military – and all deal in huge sums of filthy lucre.
But capping all these looms the greater threat of the climate change catastrophe, to which the UN International Panel on Climate Change drew attention in its latest report released last week, which warns that we have only 12 years to limit this ominous outcome. But warning bells have been around for many years, such as the ones rang by Vandana Shiva, a noted Delhi-based environmentalist, who had pointed out: ‘The dominant model of economic development has in fact become anti-life. When economies are measured only in terms of money flow, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And the rich might be rich in monetary terms – but they too are poor in the wider context of what being human means.
‘Meanwhile, the demands of the current model of the economy are leading to resource wars: oil wars, water wars, food wars. There are three levels of violence involved in non-sustainable development. The first is the violence against the earth, which is expressed as the ecological crisis. The second is the violence against people, which is expressed as poverty, destitution and displacement. The third is the violence of war and conflict, as the powerful reach for the resources that lie in other communities and countries for their limitless appetites.’
A major consequence of these ‘limitless appetites’ is a critical concern of the World Food Program (WFP). Last week, in a report, it warned that climate change will have a devastating impact on agriculture and the ability of people to feed themselves. It forecasts a huge increase in worldwide hunger unless action is taken to slow global warming, adding that progress in reducing global hunger is under threat by conflict and the increase in climate disasters. For the first time in several decades, the WFP reported that the number of people suffering from chronic food shortages has risen with 821 million people going to bed hungry this year, 11 million more than the previous year.
In the past there have been doomsday projections that did not materialize, like the ‘Malthusian catastrophe’ which predicted a forced return to subsistence-level conditions once population growth has outpaced agricultural production – but as critics noted, Malthus did not reckon with technological advancements that would boost agriculture. Or the Club of Rome’s pessimism in 1971 as to whether we would see the end of the century because of population explosion and the paucity of resources to cope, not to mention that availability of nuclear weapons that for the first time in history had the capability to wipe out humankind. The arsenal may have reduced but the risks have increased because of rogue nations being now nuclear weapon states.
While there has been much progress that has given us the feeling – or is it wishful thinking? – that things can only get better, particularly since some ominous predictions did not come about, it is the downsides of this frenetic materialistic development that are a cause for great concern globally, as the preceding paragraphs have indicated. The fears about an ecological crisis whence we may not come back are genuine, with its potential for conflicts of all kinds and of climatic disasters which we are already witnessing around the world. We must not harbour the illusion that we will be spared, for we form part of the larger ecosystem and inevitably we will be impacted.
Unless humankind radically changes its lifestyle towards a more sustainable mode for all of us, the prospect of a better future seems to be receding.
* Published in print edition on 19 October 2018